Film Review – You’re Next
There seems to be a trend in recent years of solid films being released after languishing on the studio shelves for years. It feels like most of them are horror films, which makes sense, as that is one of the genres with the most stable built-in audience; why it took this long to release them is shocking. Perhaps the studios were afraid of what audiences might think of clever horror movies. Thankfully, we’re getting a string of them after years of waiting, and we can finally see what all the hype is about. First up was The Cabin in the Woods, which was released to wide audiences and high praise after being caught up in the MGM bankruptcy. Now we’re finally getting Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, which premiered at TIFF in all the way back in 2011. After generating a lot of buzz during its return screening at SXSW this year, it is finally time to see if it can live up to expectations. Oh, and we’re still waiting on All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, which dates back all the way to 2006, so come join the party.
Set around the backdrop of a family reunion being tormented by mask-wearing intruders, from the beginning, You’re Next leads you to believe it is going to be fairly traditional horror, very much in the same vein as something like The Strangers. Like Muhammad Ali’s “rope a dope” or the aforementioned Cabin in the Woods, just when you’ve become settled in, it morphs, catching you head on and asleep at the wheel as you wait for those tradition plot beats. The joy of You’re Next is that it takes these expectations and turns on them, evolving into a completely different movie in the second half than what we’ve grown to expect. Think of all the times you’ve yelled at someone not to go into that room…finally you start to get your wish.
There is always an element of concern of living up to the hype when finally seeing a film that has developed a cult following. The internet has been building with glowing praise of this movie. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett have spent the better part of the last half decade (including projects such as V/H/S) working within the realm of independent horror. This experience is clear from the excellent execution of the material, as well as learning what audiences have come to expect from movies like these. You’re Next’s greatest strength is that it is fun; it plays on tropes that you’ve come to expect from movies like this and revels in zigging when you expect it to zag. For horror fans, this will be a strong performer, but it might be hard to lure in other crowds. This isn’t quite as mainstream-friendly as Cabin in the Woods; You’re Next feels like it was made by intelligent horror filmmakers, rather than intelligent filmmakers making a horror film. It would be intriguing to see Wingard and Barrett work in the mainstream, but you can’t blame them for sticking with something that is fun.
The dynamics of the film are intriguing, as it would best be described as a horror comedy (perhaps a new genre, horror thriller comedy). In and of themselves, horror comedies aren’t unique, but traditionally when combining the two genres, filmmakers tend to make the comedy dominant, with the horror at a secondary level. In the case of You’re Next, this balance is completely reversed. There are no illusions that the world is quirky and fun as in films like Shaun of the Dead. Much of the humor comes through the awkwardness of family reunions (which we can all relate to), from ignoring traditional horror moments that we’ve all come to know and love, and as a way to handle that innate human reaction of shock at what you’re seeing.
The effectiveness of the movie lies in its simplicity and balance. You’re Next isn’t overly violent, scary, or comedic, as you would generally expect from a premise like this. The shock and surprise is certainly a big part of the experience, but it never feels like it is trying to be the scariest movie. Already this year I found The Conjuring to be creepier than this, and if I know James Wan at all, I suspect Insidious: Chapter 2 will be as well. Similarly, with a film like this you might expect loads of violence, but it is great at playing on the imagination more often than actually showing the violence (think something akin to the ear scene in Reservoir Dogs).
The real surprise is Sharni Vinson, who up until this point is probably best known for her work as the lead in Step Up 3D. Despite her past image as an up-and-coming Hollywood starlet, she truly embraces the grit of the movie. She takes on the lead role and gives her own interpretation of the strong female heroine that has become a staple in Hollywood over the last thirty years. She is put through the ringer, and does an excellent job of meeting all the expectations of horror fans; if the circumstances were different, you could see them building a franchise around her and her character. Casting directors should take note, as her balance of emotional range and physicality is quite impressive (plus, the Australian accent is quite charming, as well). Indie and horror film fans will also appreciate the inclusion of actors such as Joe Swanberg, Ti West, and Barbara Crampton.
You’re Next won’t be the scariest film to come out this year, but it will be one of the most fun. While it is unlikely this will help smooth the path for other releases, it is nice to see a film like this live up to the hype. This is the kind of creative filmmaking that Hollywood needs more of, and it shows the value of embracing the independent film world.